LOS ANGELES – Crashing the crease with a defender right behind him is how Wild winger Nino Niederreiter has been productive throughout his NHL career.
That’s also how he finally shook off his scoring slump.
And the timing certainly suited the Wild.
Niederreiter buried his first goal this season – and first in 28 games – to get the ball rolling on a 3-1 rally over the Kings on Thursday in front of 17,621 at Staples Center that signaled the team’s eighth win in its past 10 games.
“It was a good spark for us,” winger Zach Parise said. “Considering the circumstances, it was an uplifting goal.”
The line featuring Niederreiter, Parise and captain Mikko Koivu was responsible for two goals, with Parise securing the go-ahead goal in the second period and Koivu setting up three goals – including a shorthanded empty-netter from winger Mikael Granlund with three seconds left.
Goalie Devan Dubnyk posted 27 saves, helping stoke a bounce-back performance for the Wild – in the game and after it fell 4-3 to the Sharks on Tuesday at the start of this California road swing.
Los Angeles on Thursday dominated at the outset; the Kings peppered Dubnyk with shots, capitalizing just 4 minutes, 42 seconds into the first period when defenseman Jake Muzzin ducked around a pair of Wild players before unleashing a blistering shot by Dubnyk’s glove from inside the left faceoff circle for his first goal of the season.
“He obviously shot it hard, but I’d like to keep those ones out,” Dubnyk said. “So after that, it’s important for me to work and keep it there.”
Dubnyk accomplished that, and the team rewarded him for it.
After forward Charlie Coyle drew a penalty by cutting to the middle, the Wild power play went to work and converted for the seventh time in the past six games.
Parise’s attempt at the post was stopped, but he funneled the puck to the front of the net where Niederreiter directed it behind Kings goalie Jack Campbell at 14:23.
“It definitely felt like a great relief, but it also makes it more special when you find a way to win the hockey game,” Niederreiter said.
The goal was Niederreiter’s first since March 24, snapping a 27-game drought that included last season’s five-game playoff series against the Jets. It was also his fourth point in his past four games, production that hinted he was getting closer to climbing out of his funk.
“Right after that, he looked a lot faster for the rest of the game,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “It’s obviously weighing on your mind when you’re a scorer and you haven’t scored in a long time. I’m really happy for him.”
Overall, the power play went 1-for-3; the Kings blanked on their three chances.
A more even feel settled in during the second, which also seemed to flatter the Wild.
And with 5:18 left in the period, the team secured the go-ahead goal from Parise.
He accepted a Koivu pass and slung the puck on his backhand through Campbell for his sixth goal of the season. Campbell finished with 21 saves for the Kings.
The goal was also Parise’s 700th career point; he became just the fifth Minnesota-born skater and 22nd active NHLer to reach that plateau. Parise ranks first among active U.S.-born skaters and second among Minnesota-born players in career goals (339).
“It’s always nice to get milestones,” Parise said. “It’s rewarding when you put in the hard work for it and you get the results. It’s a good number to have.”
It was also the second consecutive multi-point game for Koivu and his first three-point showing of the season.
“We were able to get that forecheck going,” Koivu said of his line, which combined for six points. “Both Zach and Nino did very good on the walls. They were coming down. Those are not easy plays to make but once you make it, it helps get the puck with speed and go the other way. I think we did all the little things in order to have a good hockey game.”